CMA to scrutinise eco claims on FMCG in next phase of greenwashing clampdown
The UK’s competition watchdog is set to investigate the environmental claims made about fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) including food, drink and toiletries, as it continues its work on greenwashing.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has today (26 January) confirmed plans to investigate the potential extent of greenwashing by FMCG companies and brands, as part of its ongoing work on the phenomenon.
The CMA’s first sector-specific investigation into greenwashing – a term used to refer to the use of potentially misleading claims about a product or company’s environmental impact – concerned the fashion sector. The Authority conducted a broad analysis of claims across the sector before launching more targeted analysis of the claims made by Asos, Boohoo and George at Asda last summer.
It is extending its work to FMCG after receiving and collecting evidence that a “significant” majority of household products in selected categories are marketed as ‘green’ or ‘eco-friendly’ in some way, with up to 91% of dishwashing products and virtually all toilet products sold in the UK having at least one environmental claim on the packaging. The CMA believes that there could well be greenwashing at work within some of these claims.
Additionally, the CMA has stated that it is important to address greenwashing by FMCG brands as most members of the public spend a significant amount of money on these products and purchase from these categories frequently.
“These products are the essentials on everyone’s shopping lists: food and drink, shampoo, laundry detergent, toothpaste, cleaning products,” said CMA chief executive Sarah Cardell.
“As more people than ever try to do their bit to help protect the environment, we’re concerned many shoppers are being misled and potentially even paying a premium for products that aren’t what they seem, especially at a time when the cost of living continues to rise.”
Regarding the next steps, the Authority has stated that “how the review develops will depend on the CMA’s assessment of the evidence before it.”
The statement elaborates: “If the CMA uncovers evidence suggesting green claims could be unfounded, it will consider taking enforcement action using its formal powers – for example, opening an investigation into specific companies.”
The CMA will assess claims made online and in-store, including on-pack labelling and other marketing. Claims will be assessed against the Authority’s ‘Green Claims Code’ – a set of 13 guidelines for businesses and brands with consumer-facing products and services. Issues covered by the code include ensuring the accuracy and clarity of claims; not omitting important information and enabling ‘fair and meaningful’ comparison.
Companies found to be falling foul of the Code may be subject to investigation by the CMA. The Authority has the power to implore companies to draw up plans to change the way they operate and report on progress in this field. It can also take brands to court.
Hear more from the CMA at edie 23
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The CMA’s director of consumer protection, Cecilia Parker-Aranha, will be speaking on Day 2 of edie23 (2 March) as part of a briefing on greenwashing and greenhushing. This session will be chaired by Charmian Love, global director of advocacy at Natura & Co.
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